the long awaited story
Getting caught up on life…I don’t even know if that holds the same meaning for me anymore. I’ve been meaning to write about my adventures in Australia and somehow it seems like years have passed since then.
Life does not always work out the way you plan or hope…but somehow it always works out, and even better than what you initially wanted, or thought you wanted. I went to Australia to see a man I had met two and a half years ago and started falling in love with; I figured life was too short to EVER ask the question what if and wonder what could have happened had you done things differently and taken different actions. So, big surprise, I decided to be impulsive and buy a ticket to Australia to see this man of mine and was pleasantly astonished when he said he would pay for one thousand dollars of the ticket. After working on the farm and living with Lionel and his wonderful parents, as well as spending a crazy week in Edmonton, I bought my ticket to Australia and was Nelson-bound to visit my mother for a month before my departure.
Arriving in Australia was beyond doubt a bit surreal. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had arrived in some alternate twilight version of Canada…both countries really are similar, but definitely have their differences as well. I sat beside the most awesome Mexican couple on the flight and had such a good time talking and sharing stories…by the time I had arrived in Australia I was just overflowing with energy and all nerves at seeing this man that I hadn’t seen for two and a half years, Shem. But things change over the years, and people too (or some change while others simply stay the same) and perhaps I had built up the encounter to unreasonable expectations…but by the time I arrived in the waiting area, there was no one there and I was immediately disappointed. So I took out a bit of money, and a couple minutes later Shem arrived. At first it was a bit exciting, but once the excitement wore off I somehow knew that we were not compatible; everything fundamental that makes a person who he or she is (values, beliefs, passions, interests, background, family, habits, etc) was utterly and absolutely different from one another. By day two I felt trapped and wanted to run away and by day three, I packed my bags and was ready to run for the hills, which, in this case, was back to Melbourne to visit my friend Dan and then South again to visit Josh. Shem and I talked, he still gave me one thousand dollars (which I felt pretty good about…it was like a nice little bonus!), and the next day I was off, relieved, freed and off on an entirely different adventure than I had planned….and with two weeks to kill before I met up with Lionel in Sydney.
It doesn’t matter where you go…amazing people can truly be found anywhere and everywhere and in this life of mine I feel I’ve been quite fortunate. And it’s crazy who you keep in touch with and see down the line in your life. I arrived in Melbourne and sat in a coffee shop for hours just writing, reading, and talking to the barista who was such an intriguing young man…and then I walked a couple blocks to meet up with Daniel Pelensky, old first-year university –vegetarian club (as well as drinking and being silly in general) friend who has been living in Australia for the past five or so years…and probably stayed with him close to a week and had such a fantastically glorious time, doing everything from visiting penguins on the docks, watching sappy chick-flicks, drinking copious amounts of beer, joining the St. Kilda Public Library and going to special library events (one in particular called “Sonnets of the Gatwick” which I walked into blindly thinking it was going to be related to Art History or something along those lines and was quite surprised to see a documentary made up by a series of interviews with retired sex workers/people living in a building called “the Gatwick” and met some really nice grandma-like women who were actually old prostitutes! As well as a really interesting variety of people, including one woman in particular called Maurya who I had fun joking around with and eating free cheese and crackers-we took some cheese home in our purses- and drinking free red wine….I love library events!) and going to this show called Miranda Sings which is very entertaining and kind of cultish (but in an amazing way) which everyone should youtube. But at this Miranda Sings event, in an obscure part of Melbourne in a neat little bar/club with a drag show going on upstairs, I kind of realized that the world is tiny, really tiny. Who do I end up seeing at the bar but Benjamin, my thirteen for life friend (along with Gina of course) from Utila Honduras! It was such an incredible and implausible run-in…so later that week I ended up hanging out with Benjamin and catching up and we didn’t exchange e-mails so that who knows…maybe we’ll bump into each other again sometime in the future.
The time came when I left Melbourne and went onwards to Adelaide to visit Josh and his family. Now, Josh and I met under interesting circumstances in Leon, Nicaragua, over a year ago. Tina and I were in two different dorm rooms with multiple single beds…and somehow we both ended up with the only bunk bed in each dorm. One particular night, after hours of drinking, I decided to go to bed early while everyone else went out to the club. I had met Josh briefly when we were all having drinks (he came in with Jade –pronounced Ya-De, one of Tina’s friends) and we had hung out. Now, long story short: as I’m brushing my teeth and getting ready to go to bed the person on the bottom bunk (which I find out later on was Josh) grabs my arm and says “Sex with me” so I pretty much thought Josh was a huge perv for the first sixteen hours or so that I knew him. Luckily Josh had clarified something for me and told me that he was saying that, because of his mosquito net that was all over him, he felt like an “octopus was trying to have sex with me”… I pretty much knew from that moment on that a beautiful friendship was beginning…so, back to Melbourne…I decided to take an over-night bus and visit Josh for a while in Adelaide. And true to the memory I had of Josh…our first night was entertaining to say the least. Without getting into too many details…which somehow remain slightly hazy for some reason, Josh, Kiri-Lee from Sweden (who was apparently not from Sweden but entirely Australian, and her name was Carie-Ann…oops) Aaron, Ashley and I all hung out and drank in a purely debauch manner until the wee hours of the morning. Aaron had come out directly from work, so he was still in a business suit, I was wearing my red dress (the same I would wear in Honduras when I had no clean clothing left and had to do my laundry…and my Maid of Honour dress at Mike and Andrea’s wedding) and Josh was wearing a plaid button up shirt (actually, much classier than that, it was snap buttons…and he pretty much thought he looked like a “gay cowboy”)…we lost Josh, as well as a few other soldiers, and by the end it was just Josh’s illegally parked car, Aaron in his business suit, and myself, so as Aaron was already passed out in the car, I fashioned myself a nice blanket out of newspaper (Josh’s car definitely was not the cleanest) and went to sleep for the night in the car.
Who would have thought that a guy in a pretty spiffy business suit and a girl in a nice red dress would make the perfect hobos? It took a few days to recover from our little night’s escapades and then I think my body decided to punish me for torturing it so because after the hangover subsided I caught the flu and had a horrible fever for a few days! I can’t really complain though because everyone took such good care of me…and I felt a little guilty about staying home all day and being gloriously lazy while everyone was off working…but it was nice, really nice.
Josh and I went to the beach, which was the first time I had gone swimming in the ocean since I got there! And I got the worst sunburn of my life on my stomach and legs…and only on the front of my body as I was lying on my back the whole time! I had done a pretty crappy job at putting sunscreen on so the burn was not attractive in the least…and I still have the ridiculous tan lines to prove it.
Time flew by at Josh’s, Wendy’s and Trevor’s, and next thing I knew I was off to Sydney to meet up with Lionel! I had a final farewell with Josh and some of his friends, who are perfectly awesome and crazy and ridiculous…and the next day Josh brought me to the airport and I was gone from Adelaide.
Seeing Lionel again was an exciting moment, to say the least. Not to mention that it had been about four times in the past year that we had said goodbye to each other without knowing when we would see one another again…so it was just so funny, to see each other yet AGAIN! And true to our crazy friendship, the first night together in Sydney was a whirlwind: we drank as many free drinks as we could (the one good thing about the hostel “Base”, which pretty much just sucks and has no personality so never go if you can avoid it!) in half an hour…and then they had this competition at the bar, open to men, where you could win a fifty dollar bar tab if you stripped…so I of course signed Lionel up (“take one for the team!”). Oh, and did I mention that the free drinks between 8:30 and 9pm were only available to girls (girls’ night) unless the men dressed up as girls…so I lent Lionel my little green dress (Tina you would have been proud!). That being said, Lio performed a masterful striptease in my little green dress…and he was by far the best out of all the other contestants, but I think the voting was rigged in favor of one of the other contestants, as he was the one to walk away with the fifty dollar bar tab; Lionel was defeated, but I managed to film the whole thing…so maybe we can sell it or put it up on youtube and Lionel will become a star…and I’ll be his manager, I guess we’ll see.
We walked around a lot that first day, checking out the Sydney Opera House and just enjoying how beautiful Sydney truly is, and the second day we did pretty much the same thing…but this time we stumbled upon the theatre house that was showing the broadway production WICKED and I recalled Dan Pelensky telling me about this type of “lottery” that they do two and a half hours before the show starts, where they draw sixteen names and the people who win only have to pay 30 dollars for 150 dollar tickets…so Lionel and I took this as a sign and went it and asked about when the next show was, which just happened to be that night (Friday) at 8pm…so we went and we both won! Each person drawn gets two tickets, so really, we both didn’t even need to win the tickets (Lio was the second person to get drawn, and I was the third!) and that evening we both saw our first Broadway Production ever…not to mention that our tickets were FRONT ROW tickets. If ever WICKED is showing wherever any of you are living, fork out the money and go…because it’s truly amazing.
The next day we decided to start making our journey North to Byron Bay and to Brisbane, for the ten-day Vipassana meditation that we both got accepted to do…so we eventually jumped on a train to Newcastle, where we started our long to be history of illegitimate camping. We found a beautiful spot overlooking the beach and ocean…just below some mansions.
And how did we get to our destination? Well we hitch-hiked of course! And luckily we got picked up by some really interesting people, one in particular brought us 400 kilometers! But this same person only had a tiny white packed car, so Lionel and I had to share the front seat and since the air conditioning wasn’t working, we pretty much sweated the whole time. But we eventually made it to Byron Bay! There we camped legitimately (and overpricedly…which we eventually fixed by recruiting a girl from the hostel to come share our land with us).
Byron Bay was the same thing every day, which was quite nice. We ate our one/one and a half meals a day, drank lots of coffee and read books diligently. We stayed there close to a week (I think) and it was truly relaxing. It was only on the last day that we went exploring and saw how beautiful Byron Bay is, once you get out of the chauchy/rich town centre, clothing stores, restaurants, etc. to see the beginning of forests, the most Eastern point of Australia, a beautiful lighthouse and nothing but coasts and water, as far as the eye could see.
The time came, once again, to start being on the move and heading North. We got picked up fairly fast while walking out of Byron Bay, but unfortunately got dropped off at some pretty horrible places to get picked up, so Lionel and I ended up walking about 5km in the stifling heat on the side of the freeway…but luckily got picked up by a very nice man who gave us ice-cold coca-cola and brought us to Brisbane, where we were able to take the train to an awesome and decently priced hostel (at first we ended up at Base again…and said “Hell no!” and continued onwards to greener pastures…which ended up being in a sketchier but far more interesting part of town).
We ate like kings and drank a bit before our ten day meditation with no booze or meat or talking.
Next day we went to Vipassana and started the intenseness. Now, if I were to even start writing about the ten days at the dhama centre I think I could write a whole book. The madness of my mind, the endless thoughts, the physical as well as mental pain of meditating, the silence yet constant unwanted chatter of my mind…and yet the lightness I felt once it was all over and once I started getting the hang of it. This is probably one of the more difficult things I’ve done in my life and I feel everyone should do it. Even now, I feel like I have so much less anger and stress and everything is much clearer.
After ten days I was able to see Lionel again (men and women were separated) and it was so nice to laugh and talk with such a lightness of heart. I feel as though we were both glowing afterwards. Then we got a ride to Brisbane and went and saw the movie Avatar which was absolutely amazing and beautiful and perfect to see coming out of vipassana (thanks to Lionel who took me out as a very nice Christmas present).
Somehow it seemed as though everything was working out…as though the powers of karma were simply taking care of everything. And Tara, an amazing young woman from the meditation retreat, invited us to spend Christmas with her and her family, so we had a place for the holidays.
The next day we left our bags at the hostel and went on a trying journey to find clothing for me for Somaliland (somehow I think my short shorts, skimpy tank tops and little dresses wouldn’t have been fitting). It was Christmas Eve and the initial girl working at the hostel reception had told us to go over to the West End to the “op-shops” (opportunity shops, also known as thrift stores), but the OTHER reception girl told us that thrift stores were actually quite expensive and told us to go to Queens Ave, which, as Lionel and I were soon to find out, was a crazy hubbub of commercialism, over-priced fashion stores and Christmas Eve mayhem as everyone was trying to get their last-minute shopping done. This was sensory overload for Lio and I, after our ten peaceful and completely silent days at the retreat. After hours of walking around and not finding anything, we sat down, defeated and depressed and looked at our pathetic little map of Brisbane, hoping it held answers for us. At that point, the man who was sitting beside us, who smelled quite strongly of alcohol, asked us what we were looking for and we told him “cheap clothing stores,” which he told us didn’t exist on Queens Ave and said that there existed Factory Outlet Shops in the West End. He gave us fantastic directions and next thing we knew, we were on the bus on our way to the West End. Things were looking up, and we got off at the right place and saw in the distance a factory outlet shop…so we went hither and walked in and felt pretty good about ourselves…until the woman working there said that all the factory outlet shops only sell to boutiques. On our way to that factory outlet store we went by a thrift store, but it was closed, so we asked her if she knew of any others; besides that one, she knew of one other…so we followed her directions and saw a rack of clothing outside of the store…which was about to close but they decided to stay open for us…and there I found all the clothing I needed at a very cheap price!
We walked out in high spirits, and we saw that there was a liquor store right beside the thrift store, which was perfect as we wanted to buy a bottle of wine to bring for Christmas at Tara’s…and lo and behold they were having a wine tasting! The girl giving the wine tasting, Claire, was awesome and let us taste all seven wines, which, after not drinking for over ten days, got Lio and I a little tipsy. We bought one of her wines and went outside to be pleasantly surprised to see the right bus stop right in front of the liquor store! But a couple minutes later Claire walked out and offered us a ride to our hostel! So she drove us about a block from our hostel. We both needed to go to the bathroom, so went into this mini mall and there we saw that the Chinese market was closing down, so everything had to go and was dirt cheap! We bought food that lasted us days and had quite the feast, for only nine dollars! Some of the food was kind of “mystery” food though, including these red carrot-like things that tasted like ginger…which we just ate raw. Later, as I was sitting on one side of Lionel I noticed he had a bit of food stuck in his teeth (on the left side of his mouth) which he couldn’t remove so I game him my mirror, at which point I heard a little yelp escape his mouth and when he turned his head and smiled I saw that the whole right side of his teeth was died bright orange/yellow (from the carrot-ginger things!). I almost peed my pants laughing and didn’t quite understand how my teeth were unscathed while his were now discolored. We went back to the hostel, got our bags, and eventually started the journey to find a park to camp in (which Claire had actually recommended!), which we eventually found.
So we placed leaves over the tent to camouflage ourselves and the next day we packed up, went to the train station bathroom to freshen up and get changed, and then met up with Tara, after sitting on a bench in front of closed stores staring at our reflections, and after having a delicious coffee at the Holiday Inn.
It was awesome to spend Christmas in a family…especially because Lionel and I were a very random addition. There Tara’s parents, brothers, sister in law, and niece were, opening presents, and then there were Lio and I. What was nice though is that everyone in her family is a musician, so we got to sit around and sing along to Christmas carols while they all played the guitars. The food was delicious, the company was great, and we all went home (to Tara’s) content and full (and with a nice place to sleep for Lio and I!).
Tara was a sweet heart the next day and gave us a ride about an hour out of Brisbane. Then we got picked up by this young seventeen year-old girl who brought us in the wrong direction and told us to get on the wrong side of the road (which was really embarrassing when the next person asked us where we were going, we said Sydney, and he told us we needed to get on the other side of the road). It seemed like for the first few hours we were going nowhere fast, or in our case, extremely slowly…until, Steven the semi-truck driver slammed on the breaks and picked us up! And he was going all the way to Sydney! So we did 800 km with Steven and got to Sydney a day before we thought we would…at around 3:30am.
Now because I bought some clothing at the thrift store and some very important and pertinent (and expensive) English teaching books (thanks to Vu’s- from Vipassana- recommendations!)…I was pretty broke by the time we got to Sydney…but apparently Sydney on a budget is completely feasible! (if you’re willing to bend the rules a bit, jump
a few fences, and be a tad sketchy)
So we spent very little money in our three days in Sydney, except on coffee, food once in a while (Tara’s assorted olive oil Christmas present to Lionel really saved us, along with our 1$ bread from the Chinese market in Brisbane) and cheap internet in the heart of China Town (I swear, if it weren’t for the Chinese and the Mexicans, cities would be entirely less interesting)… and as for the sleeping part, we had our sleeping bags, tent, and covert camping skills. At first we had a little difficulty finding a spot; we thought long and hard about camping in the Botanical gardens…but the fact that they close at 8pm and open and 8am, have security cameras everywhere, and that most places were quite visible, we decided against the idea. Plus, we didn’t really feel like being trapped somewhere for twelve hours without really being able to do anything except co-exist in my tiny tent in complete silence for twelve hours. Unfortunately we were both exhausted from our previous night (driving in the semi truck, not sleeping very well and arriving in the wee hours of the morning) and Lionel was especially miserable but visibly trying hard not to be negative (he really needs his full night’s sleep…and thanks to University excessive partying, I think I’m able to run on no sleep whatsoever!). After a day of walking around with our heavy backpacks, it was now approaching midnight and we were still walking around with our backpacks, running on white bread and olive oil and two hours sleep, and trying desperately to find a place where covert camping would be possible. We ended up walking along a nice walkway through a pretty ritzy/rich neighbourhood, overlooking one of the many harbours, and eventually the walkway turned into an overpass with a grassy patch underneath and a completely jumpable fence; this became our home for the following two nights.
Although our third day was nice (because Lionel checked into a hostel and we were finally able to take a much needed shower and relax a bit….and NOT wear our bags!) it was also a bit sad because this time, for real, we would be saying goodbye for a while. So although I was ecstatic about getting to Somaliland and starting to work on projects and teaching English, the fact that Lionel and I wouldn’t be seeing each other for at least a year made me a little disheartened, and as the van was pulling away to bring me to the airport (and after Lio had initially run after it and knocked on the window when we were stopped a few blocks away), I got a little teary eyed.
I left Australia with exactly $33.70 to my name: $25US just in case I needed it, $5 in the bank, and $3.70 in Australian dollars which I spent once in the airport on a bbq cheeseburger and small fries from MacDonald’s, which cost exactly $3.70. I had a while to kill before I boarded on the flight, so I decided to go over my contract for my job in Somaliland. And something that I had apparently missed from before: I needed $20US for once I got there for my Visa, and another $50US to change into Somali shillings. I was of course immediately hit by panic and lucky for free internet at the Sydney terminal because I was immediately able to e-mail my mother.
Now, I would have never dreamed that by the time I arrived in the Sydney terminal it would take me 72 hours to reach Hargeisa, Somaliland…but that’s exactly what happened! My flight was from Sydney to Dubai (with a fifteen hour stop-over in Beijing) and then from Dubai to Hargeisa (with a stop-over in Djibouti). Unfortunately, when I checked-in in Sydney, they automatically checked me in for Beijing…so when I arrived in Beijing I wasn’t able to leave the “check-in” area, which meant no ATM machines…so no money to take out. There was internet, but it cost five dollars to use, and since at this point all I had was $25 dollars, the idea of spending five of the twenty-five was simply inconceivable. Also, Kiette had written me to tell me that once in Dubai (my flight would be arriving at 2am) I would have a very tight connection (because my flight to Hargeisa would be leaving at 3am), which I was pondering just how physically possible it would be to make (checking out, going through customs, claiming my bags, checking in, going through customs again…and somehow catching my flight and doing all this in less than one hour). The time finally came, after the long stop-over in Beijing, to board the plane to Dubai…and as I was checking in the man taking my boarding pass changed my seat number. At first I was quite disappointed because I was convinced I would no longer have my window seat, but as I got on board and was looking for my seat I was directed to First Class! Yes, poor Ode with exactly twenty five dollars, promoted to the land of champagne and orange juice, completely reclining seats, slippers, bags of toiletries, comfy blankets and pillows and personal tv screens with a schedule of movies to chose from…it was amazing! I thought to myself that even if I don’t make my flight once I’m in Dubai, at least I’ll have had the chance to experience first class. And after the best flight of my life, with a three course meal and quality entertainment and a couple glasses of red wine, I had arrived in Dubai. Now just to save everyone the angst of wondering what happened, I’ll tell you right now: I naturally missed my flight. At first I was a little sad and sat on a bench and cried for about five minutes…but then I figured that wasn’t doing me any good, so I went looking for the Air China offices (I had flown with Air China) and luckily bumped into someone working for Air China who said I could use the internet in his office (as there was absolutely no internet in the Dubai airport unless I had my own computer/cell phone and I’m of course a huge hobo and have neither) and there I was able to e-mail Kiette and company to tell them I was stuck in Dubai... but I also got an e-mail from mum telling me she put money in my account. I then found out that there was another flight leaving the following day leaving at 3am) so I figured I would just try and check-in at midnight (New Year’s Eve…I was checking in at midnight!) and hope for the best.
After finishing with my e-mail, I went upstairs to the food court and found a nice long bench with someone sleeping on it, so I decided to sleep as well. Later on when I woke up I found out that this person was Malik. And what an amazing person! I told him my story and he immediately left and came back with cookies and a pepsi for me. We hung out all day, he taught me some Arabic and it was a really nice day! He even told me that in the washrooms they have showers so I was able to take a much needed shower in Dubai! By the end he had to leave and wanted me to marry him (I told him he was too old and not exactly what I was looking for in a husband) and I met another person, Muji from India who bought me a chocolate bar and a mango juice and showed me pictures of his wife and his newborn daughter…this was my introduction to Muslims…and I thought that these people are so kind and friendly and wondered if anyone would do something similar back in Canada. Eventually the time came to try checking in again, and at first, I wasn’t there on the list! But then I showed them my information from the previous day’s flight, they double checked and told me there would be a small fine to pay (which was fine as I was able to take money out of the bank and exchange it and everything was fine!). So the next leg was: from Dubai to Hargeisa, with a stop-over in Djibouti. From Beijing to Dubai I had already put on my new and respectable attire and on the flight from Dubai, once again, people were so friendly. Joseph sat beside me, a Somalilander who had fled with his family as a refugee to Sweden twenty years ago because of the civil war. We talked most of the time and I liked him immediately. The flight attendant liked us and told us that the previous month, on the same flight, there was an attempted terrorist attack but that he apprehended the man in question who had a liquid bomb (after arguing with the pilots and the other passengers, who were taking the side of the man with the bomb). Once in Djibouti, Joseph and I met a wonderful woman (about my age) who was also on our flight from Dubai called Najat, who was travelling with her mother to Hargeisa. We immediately formed a little “family” and Najat’s mother said that I looked like them and that I should watch out otherwise I would end up with a husband in Somaliland.
So this was my first encounter of Somaliland, through its people. And I immediately felt comfortable, part of the family, and at home.
NOW is an entirely different journey than before, and I have a feeling I’ll be staying here for a while…